The most profound impact of artificial intelligence (AI) may be the technology’s ability to help predict the future. In fact, AI combined with machine learning is powering a new wave of predictive analytics solutions—and it’s benefiting everything from industries like retail, real estate, and insurance to clean water initiatives and predictive policing in the public sector.
Below we look at AI’s impact on yet another area that’s taking people’s notice: Worker safety.
Workplace injuries cost businesses more than $1 billion per week in the U.S. alone. The good news is that the number of injuries went down 1.5 percent last year, according to the most recent Workplace Safety Index from U.S. insurer Liberty Mutual. The bad news is that the cost of injuries—medical and lost wage payments—rose 2.9 percent.
Fortunately, AI is coming to the rescue, and the construction business is one industry that’s benefiting—and saving lives. A recent MIT Technology Review article covered the application of AI on construction sites, highlighting the case of Suffolk, a Boston, Massachusetts-based construction company. The firm has been working on an AI-powered workplace safety system for more than a year with the goal of predicting when accidents will happen. Therefore, increasing the ability to prevent them.
The system uses an algorithm that analyzes existing construction site images with previous accident records and combined with real-time monitoring looks for situations where accidents may be likely to occur again. For example, spotting a worker without gloves or someone standing too close to a running machine. In a salute to industry collaboration and data for the greater good, Suffolk also opened up a consortium for competitors to join and share data to improve safety. Well done!
Another way AI is helping improve workplace safety is by tackling the problem of occupational fatigue, which can be especially dangerous in machine-oriented jobs and workplaces. By analyzing data from wearable technology or enabling smart machines to monitor cognitive and physical fatigue, AI can help prescribe just the right time for a “mandatory” break to reduce the risk of an accident.
Balancing Safety with Privacy Concerns
Both of the above examples provide a good reminder for executives of the critical need to balance workplace safety with the right levels of employee privacy and transparency. With new technologies like surveillance systems and wearables making their way into more companies—and onto more employees—business leaders should openly communicate with employees on their value, while respecting employees’ privacy and maintaining a positive work environment.
Finally, AI is also helping keep workers safe by improving disaster preparedness, especially when a company employs people in coastal areas that are susceptible to storms or floods, or in regions with higher exposure to climate-related disasters. In this case, AI helps better predict when and where storms and disasters may occur, allowing for more time to prepare or evacuate the area if needed.
Can AI and predictive analytics improve workplace safety at your company? We hope these examples provide a little food for thought, if not inspiration for your business.